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Health secretary says Babylon-style GP model should become 'available to all'

The NHS should 'harness' new technology such as Babylon's GP at Hand app, and ensure that it becomes available to all patients, health secretary Matt Hancock has said.

In his first speech since being appointed to the role last week, Mr Hancock acknowledged complaints against the 'revolutionary' model but said it 'works brilliantly' for him.

Following reports last week that Mr Hancock uses GP at Hand, GP leaders said they were 'very concerned' and hoped 'that this does not signal his general approach'.

Speaking today at West Suffolk Hospital, Mr Hancock said: ‘Not only do I have my own app for communicating with my constituents here in West Suffolk, but as you may have heard I use an app for my GP. 

‘The discussion around my use of a Babylon NHS GP, which works brilliantly for me, has been instructive.

‘Some people have complained that the rules don’t work for care provided in this revolutionary new way. Others have said the algorithms sometimes throw up errors. 

‘Emphatically the way forward is not to curb the technology – it’s to keep improving it and – only if we need to – change the rules so we can harness new technology in a way that works for everyone: patient and practitioner.

‘I want to see more technology like this available to all, not just a select few in a few areas of the country.’

Babylon uses the out-of-area registration scheme to sign up NHS patients to its digital service via a host GMS practice based in Fulham, southwest London.

But GPs have called on NHS England to put a stop to the app, which they say ‘cherry picks’ fit, young and healthy patients and financially destabilises traditional GP practices.

Mr Hancock's first speech also revealed a partnership between the NHS and Amazon that will see patients ask their Alexa device for health advice from NHS Choices and an announcement of a £487m investment in hospital technology.

Dr Michelle Drage, chief executive of Londonwide LMCs, said: 'Currently the way the GP at Hand model works is it takes away resources from people with greater need. 

'There are all sorts of things he might say [in his first speech], for example that we need [more] GP workforce. But that's the one he's chosen to go with, which says quite a lot about his understanding of the system.'

Dr David Wrigley, Doctors in Unite chair and a GP in Lancashire, said: 'If Mr Hancock wishes to roll out [the GP at Hand] model then we’ll see more surgeries closing across the country and that has to be a bad thing for patients.'

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'Technology is excellent when used wisely but it can never be a substitute for GPs who are highly trained medical professionals who can consider all elements of our patients' lives.

'GPs - and our patients - need to know that the new health and social care secretary understands and values the role of modern GPs and that we are safe in his hands.'

A Babylon spokesperson said: 'The reality is that patients and GPs are flocking to GP at hand because they recognise the potential that high quality, digital-first 24/7 NHS GP services bring. The 200-plus GPs who have already joined Babylon also do so because they are treated with respect and not put under the levels of pressure all too common in other practices.'

Mr Hancock, who was previously digital, culture, media and sport secretary, became health secretary last week after Cabinet resignations saw Jeremy Hunt promoted to foreign secretary.

The move to digital-first general practice

Mr Hancock’s comments fit in with NHS England’s ambitions to reform the GP contract to enable the expansion of ‘digital-first’ models, which it says will have likely ‘transformed’ general practice ‘by the end of the next decade’.

The proposals out for consultation, described by NHS England as the biggest reforms since the 2004 GP contract, suggest changes to out-of-area patient payments, London weighting and the rurality index, as part of a wider bid to ensure operators such as GP at Hand can continue to expand without destabilising other practices.

NHS England defines ‘digital-first’ general practice as ‘delivery models through which a patient can receive the advice and treatment they need from their home or place of work via online symptom checking and remote consultation’.

According to NHS England, the model will ‘result in greater convenience for patients, and may help manage demand on general practice’.

Readers' comments (26)

  • Here you have it folks.
    Signed sealed and delivered as expected.

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  • Probably only a contemporary manifestation of an ancient condition, this Hancock/Hunt Syndrome (Dunnig-Krueger + induces TATT in all acquaintances and employees).

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  • Can we start a petition to bring back Hunt?

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  • The private school then oxford / cambridge PPE degree, then political advisor / think tank then running the NHS is still aliv
    e and kicking. Those high up that advise in the DOH and have the ear of ministers are technocrats. The only problem is they haven't worked in healthcare / many haven't actually done a proper job.

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  • Oh Dear!

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  • Doctor McDoctor Face

    Great start.............

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  • If you haven't read the consultation document - please do. The graph on page 14 is the problem. Even if they manage to address the payment system to move away from capitation and toward activity - if a list size drops by more than about 20-30% because the youngsters have app'd it up - then the practice still folds. I will continue to keep an eye on things. The day is fast approaching though when I need to jump rather than go down with this stinking mess. In other news the Health secretary is wondering why moral is so low, while simultaneously navel gazers try to work out how to reinvigorate the partnership model. WTF?

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  • Health secretary, 'Mr GP At Hancock', uses apps, digital and tech things and has ?financial interests in devices that many would consider to be incompatible with his job.
    If he went out to dinner with you, do you think he'd be more interested in you or more interested in his iphone, and apps, and his financial interests? and how many Millions of pounds of taxpayers money will be squandered on his 'keep the patients further than arms length developments'?
    Also,many of the sick or elderly,we may know some elderly relatives or patients, have not got a functioning computer or iphone at home, so these developments are no use to the most vulnerable.
    GPs will work from home,looking at apps, never seeing a single patient in the flesh, become deskilled, or perhaps checking the visits protocol to trigger sending out a med drone.
    In just a few years, Scientific research wil reverse the tech trend and tell us seeing a patient face to face was really the best thing ever, and actually the human touch saves the UK money.
    Come back Mr Hunt, perhaps? At least his money was in properties.

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  • AlanAlmond

    An app available to everyone in the UK will run into the same problem as a conventional practice - lack of staff. It works fine at the moment because GP at hand has access to Drs from the entire U.K. to serve the needs of a small no. of privileged patients in London. No wonder they have instant access. If everybody is doing it..where will the Drs come from? This model can’t work on a nationwide scale. It does nothing to address lack of accessibility resulting from a reducing work force. In reality it simply increases demand and draws resources away from those most in need to the benefit of those least in need. Like the smiley new ‘prime of his life’, ‘fit as a fiddle’ health minister. Who’s more in need of health care resources, someone such as this or the one legged, virtually blind diabetic with renal failure who can’t use a mobile phone? As ever a new health minister pushing his own ‘bright idea’ to make his mark. The vanity of politicians is why the NHS is stuffed

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  • Mr Hancock is gold dust for Pulse - you must be loving him already!

    It's not hard, just shut up for your first 4 weeks and do the rounds. What a spectacularly poor start from him.

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